While enduring the mild pain caused by Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I thought to myself, “Man, this Sam character is a real prick. What type of people actually like this person? This is the best savior we could get?” I then realized that I often find myself thinking this nowadays. We rarely get great, likable heroes or genuine badasses on film anymore. Most are either mopey, passive, or do morally questionable acts.
I’m not referring to anti-heroes — although, I do include one on the list — but, rather, the unintentionally lame mainstream characters that aren’t the most compelling or charming.
A few of these not-so-heroic characters aren’t due to bad acting. As you’ll notice, Leonardo DiCaprio made the list for Inception, where he gave a solid performance. While I wouldn’t say that most of the actors featured here impressed anyone, DiCaprio and a few others certainly did.
Here are ten mainstream characters that exhibit very little heroics:
Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
In just the first ten minutes, you see the Prince kill innocent civilians while raiding a town supposedly full of weapons. The silly (and possibly intentional?) Iraq allegory aside, why would anyone immediately like this guy when you see him take joy in killing, and then later find out those folks he sliced and diced were innocent?
Even when you take the murders out of the equation, Dastan is an annoying character. With a slightly awkward British accent, his undeserved cockiness, and his painfully bad jokes, he’s not a real protagonist.
John Connor (Christian Bale) in Terminator: Salvation
So much yelling. So much damn yelling. Was there a line that Christian Bale wasn’t asked to shout or whisper intensely? I can just imagine McG saying, “That was good, Christian… but can you yell it louder? Like, Shia LaBeouf loud?” If it weren’t just for the bad line readings, consider that, for most of the film, Connor treats the real hero of the film,Marcus, like crap.
Yes, he’s a robot, but it’s fairly obvious he isn’t there to kill him. I kept hoping Marcus would slowly start to get the urge to destroy Connor because of how moronic he was being. The savior of humanity is almost never the best of the best, but Bale managed to make him, with the help of a bad script, truly intolerable.
Optimus Prime (Bad Writing) in the Transformers trilogy
When Bumblebee got captured in the first Transformers, Optimus didn’t seem to care all that much. In the second film, the Autobot leader spent most of the time getting his ass handed to him. And in the latest installment, 1) Optimus gets hung up in wires during the final showdown, which he somehow can’t escape, 2) one of his robot pals dies after being betrayed, but Optimus seems like he couldn’t care less, and 3) the supposed ass-kicker gets his metallic arm chopped off as he begs for mercy from an old man robot.
Does that sound like a badass?
Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in Fast Five
Don’t get me wrong. I loved The Rock’s machismo and sweat-driven performance as much as the next guy… but as a real force and a supposed badass, the guy didn’t get much done. Hobbs is constantly getting outwitted by Vin Diesel and Paul Walker’s “characters,” and he never ends up at the top during an action setpiece; the street ambush, the slightly disappointing Vin vs. Rock pillow fight, and the roof chase — he’s always a countless number of steps behind. And, at the end, he helps Vin and Paul. Why would this man who constantly talks about honor and rules do that?
Not only that, but they end up outsmarting him and getting away with all the cash he helped them steal. Underneath those bulging biceps and sweaty polyester shirt lies an incompetent and weak little man.
Edward (Robert Pattinson) in Twilight
Yeah, he throws a few scratches here and there, so the ghostly kid counts. It’s more than enough that Edward is a flat-out sexist and possible pedophile, but he’s also got zero charm. I mean, Edward makes Dracula seem like Pee-Wee Herman in the enthusiasm department; there’s no wit, coolness, or fun to the 100+ year-old vampire.
The only reason he’s got a girlfriend is because the gal he happened to pick up is so passive and artificially impressed, and what does he do to that love interest? Breaks down her car when she wants to see another guy and leaves for months without warning. Worst of all, during battle, he uses Bella as bait. Gee, what a guy.
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Inception
Leonardo DiCaprio’s 20th tortured soul character makes a living off a pretty despicable profession: He steals ideas and plants others that’ll, most likely, ruin someone’s life. The idea of his job is extremely ironic considering what Christopher Nolan is praised for, which is coming up with original ideas.
And not only does he steal ideas, but he doesn’t even treat his team all that well. Once they begin the heist, he forgets to tell them one little detail, while possibly ruining a man’s life to help his own. “Oh yeah, probably should have been a good friend and mentioned this, but if you die here, you don’t wake up…” Nolan wants me to feel for this guy, and considering all the stunts he pulls, he makes it kind of hard.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Sam was an easy lead to be engaged with in the first film. He was like us, a nerdy and friendly high school kid without a chance of getting laid. So where did that friendliness go? The sequels turned him into a complete snob that constantly yells, talks about how awesome he thinks he is (“I saved the world twice, you know!”), and never shuts up about how unmanly he feels. Sam is a whiny kid that serves very little purpose.
Why does Bumblebee allow this little punk kid to yell at him all the time?
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in the Pirates of the Caribbean Sequels
I don’t fully understand the attraction some people have to Jack Sparrow. He doesn’t surprise you; he does exactly what you expect him to do. He’s not the “witty Jack Sparrow” anymore, but a broad, on-the-nose cartoon version of him. Not only is he not particularly funny, but he’s the worst planner in the history of adventure films. Wouldn’t things go a little smoother for him and his crew if he just told them his plan from the beginning? Why keep having them run in circles?
Jack is a terrible Captain and not even a very intimidating pirate. In the first film he had a few shades of darkness and untrustworthy-ness, but now he’s just like any other boring hero. The only reason he wins at the end of the day is because of a studio note.
Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) in The Green Hornet
I almost considered not putting Britt Reid on this list. For one, the whole point is that he’s a terrible lead; Britt isn’t a hero at all, but rather a loud and ignorant anti-hero. This is something that a lot of people didn’t seem to get. “Why is the hero the sidekick? Why is The Green Hornet so unlikable?” Because that’s part of the joke.
Reid is a moron nearly incapable of getting anything done, and that’s why he’s hilarious. There’s something endearing about his lack of effort, misogynistic comments, and poor fighting skills. He barely tries, and that’s why he’s the coolest worst hero in recent history.
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) in Green Lantern
Now here’s a real asshole, if not the biggest on the list. There were many, many problems with Martin Campbell‘s Green Lantern, but the biggest one (by far) is that its hero is a total narcissistic child. You see Hal destroy a jet that’s worth about $200 million, get workers fired just so he can show off, and mope around as if his life is so terrible, while the crappy life of Peter Sarsgaard‘s Hector Hammond gets even crappier by the second. Hal gives up being a superhero five minutes after getting the gig — what type of hero does that? A whiny one.
And I love how the first time Hal used his ring was to knock out the workers he got fired. Sure, they were beating him to hell, but justifiably so.
Dishonorable Mentions: Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker) in the Fast and Furious series, Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) in Jonah Hex, Perseus (Sam Worthington) in Clash of the Titans, Sgt. Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) in Battle: Los Angeles, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) in Tron: Legacy.
Who else should make the list?